By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Trouble, for a change, had come looking for Jon Lindsay. Usually, it's the other way around. It was a Monday afternoon in late February, and the former county judge and his oldest son, Steve, were driving across northwest Harris County, intermittently stopping to plant another "Lindsay for Senate" yard sign on the roadside or medians.
"We got over close to 290 and the Belt, and I said, 'Steve, that pillar of smoke over there, that's in the direction of our house,' " Lindsay recalled a few days later. But 36-year-old Steve, a dead ringer for his father if you added a red beard and thatch of hair to Jon Lindsay's campaign portrait, didn't think so.
"Nah," he told his father. "It's not there."
The pair continued to methodically work their way along the Beltway to State Highway 249. The smoke column, meanwhile, continued to billow, along with Lindsay's uneasiness.
"Steve, that's in the direction of our house," repeated Lindsay.
"Nah, not that way, Dad," Steve Lindsay said again.
The Lindsays forged ahead on their sign-staking expedition, heading east until they got to Bammel-North Houston Road. Looking north from that vantage point, Lindsay figured it was time to consult a map. Sure enough, Bammel ran straight to the Lindsay spread, and that pillar of smoke was right in line with the thoroughfare.
"So we quit putting up signs," explains Lindsay, "and started running red lights."
By the time they reached the Lindsay homestead off Kuykendahl Road north of FM 1960, fire trucks were swarming along the road and a thick fog of smoke had settled across the woodlands.
For a while, it appeared as if Lindsay's six-bedroom home and acres of pines would end up as kindling. But the winds died down later that day, stopping the fire line in its black tracks a quarter-mile from the edge of the Lindsay domicile.
It was just another close call for Jon Lindsay, who's seen his political fortunes repeatedly threatened over the past decade, although those blazes were usually of his own making. As with the real flames of late February, the figurative fires always seem to pull up just short of engulfing Lindsay. Which is not to say he hasn't been burned.
From behind the rambling two-story house, which sits secluded at the end of a winding, unpaved driveway, the chewing growl of a power saw echoed through the brush-choked pinewoods.
It was late morning, but the expected seasonal chill was nowhere to be felt. The wind's breath was already hot under a cloudless sky, and it carried the faint, acrid smell of charred wood, the calling card of the massive brush fire that five days earlier had seemed determined to consume these parched woodlands.
The saw went silent and a sweating Lindsay, clad in a work shirt and jeans, appeared from behind a hillock of raked pine needles to greet his visitor. He had spent the morning clearing out parched brush and deadwood that might have fueled the incineration of his home, had the fire gotten much closer. The house and surrounding 54-acre spread are the heart of Lindsay's Harris County world, one the former engineer has fashioned over the past 30 years from concrete, politics and a steely determination to succeed.
It's also likely to be the financial cornerstone of the family fortune for decades to come. Not so coincidentally, a subdivision abutting Lindsay's domain includes roads that run directly to his property line, all ready for extension when Lindsay decides to market his acreage for residential development.
At present, however, Lindsay is still reaping the benefits of a timber-growing exemption on the land that's required him to pay taxes on only a fraction of its market-value assessment over the past decade. The two segments eligible for the exemption total 48 acres and have an assessed value for taxes of $287,000. Due to the exemption, however, Lindsay pays taxes on just $10,620 of that total.
The land is thickly wooded, so the exemption is plausible, though Lindsay concedes the only timber sales he's ever made have been on pine saplings, rather than mature trees. The nonchalance with which he acknowledges taking advantage of a break that some might find just a little questionable is characteristic of Lindsay. It's the same disregard for appearances that Lindsay exhibited years ago, when he told the Houston Post that of course he saw to it that his friends and money-contributors got county contracts -- who else would he give them to?
A wiry 60-year-old whose most memorable feature is a pair of hooded, knowing eyes, Lindsay has a knack for appearing totally at ease and non-judgmental, a quality that makes him a good downtime companion. Former Post reporter Pete Brewton, a lanky West Texan who first blew the whistle on the county judge's alleged ethical indiscretions in the late '80s, says he initially was drawn to Lindsay by those personality traits.
"He's very smooth and even-keeled, and doesn't get bent out of shape one way or another," muses Brewton. "He's always had that cool, calm, collected quality."
Yet Lindsay seemed more than a little ruffled less than two years ago, following a series of published allegations that he had misused his office for personal gain, including the acceptance of a bribe in the mid-'80s to reroute a county road. He was eventually indicted for perjury on an unrelated allegation, and County Attorney Mike Driscoll, pursuing the bribery allegation, filed a lawsuit to remove Lindsay from the office he had held for almost 20 years. Before that could happen, though, Lindsay decided not to seek re-election in 1994, saying he might return to engineering, his trade prior to becoming a professional politician.
Instead, he tried his hand as a legislative lobbyist, but quickly found that life outside of the backrooms of power was not to his liking. And so, a little more than a year after leaving county government, the irrepressible Jon Lindsay -- still under indictment and trailed by a cloud of questions about his actions that have never been fully resolved -- is once again seeking elected office.
The vehicle for Lindsay's intended return to public life is the District 7 seat in the state Senate. It's a prestigious job, all right, but quite a comedown, in both salary and power, from being the presiding administrative officer of the state's largest county.
Lindsay says he began considering the Senate race last summer, when rumors began circulating that incumbent Don Henderson might not stand for re-election. Dissatisfaction with Henderson's performance had been building in Republican circles, and former state highway commissioner John Butler and his wife Penny, a national GOP committeewoman, had lined up behind Jerry Dumas, an old business associate of Butler's, for a challenge to Henderson. Then Congressman Jack Fields announced his retirement, Henderson jumped into the congressional primary to replace Fields and Lindsay declared for the Senate seat, presenting Dumas with a far more potent opponent than he had expected. Since there is no Democratic contender, the winner of next week's GOP primary will be the new senator from District 7.
Yet the primary is about more than who will represent the most Republican legislative district in Texas. It's about the attempted vindication of Jon Lindsay, and whether Republican voters want to risk returning an accused perjurer and admitted liar to office.
Lindsay won't argue with the observation that there seems to be a thrill seeker within his mental makeup, one who in the past has favored scuba and skydiving to jack his adrenaline. But he took perhaps his biggest risk in 1985, when he began associating with a corrupt band of coke-sniffing, sex-partying land speculators led by the late Robert Corson and his mother, business partner and now federal fugitive Billie Jean Garman.
According to Lindsay, he was looking for new contacts as he pondered getting out of politics, as he periodically seemed to do during the latter stages of his two decades as county judge. He claims to have been unaware of the seamier side of Corson and company, saying that he initially considered Corson credible because he was a well-known land developer and the ex-son-in-law of political kingmaker Walter Mischer Sr.
Today, Lindsay describes his association with Corson as a serious lapse in judgment.
"I had a loose period there," he says. "I got in with somebody who was exploiting me, and I didn't realize I was being exploited. I wondered why that guy kept trying to talk me into running for governor. Now I know."
A Corson gofer and admitted felon, Billy Wayne Chester, would later claim the judge did a bit of exploiting of his own by accepting a $75,000 bribe outside the bar of a Mexican restaurant on Westheimer as a reward for assistance in getting a road built to enhance a parcel of Corson's property between the Hardy Toll Road and Interstate 45. Lindsay denied taking a bribe, and today claims that General Homes, rather than Corson, owned the land at the time the road was planned. That argument neatly ignores the fact that Corson had long been associated with General Homes and was negotiating to purchase the land before the roadway was proposed, and thus had good reason to curry favor with Lindsay.
Lindsay also accompanied Corson's entourage to boxing matches in Las Vegas and on a hunting trip in Mexico. Chester claimed prostitutes were part of the entertainment on those outings, but Lindsay terms the sex allegations "a pile of crap" and "absurd." At one point, Lindsay's wife, state District Judge Tony Lindsay, called the Chronicle to appeal to editors not to air the claims, arguing that people would have a hard time disregarding them, even if unfounded. The paper did detail Chester's bribery charges, but chose not to explore the other allegations in print.
"There's been a whole lot of other people I've done more traveling with [than Corson] that I've done business with, and never had this problem," says Lindsay. "I've been hunting more with John Bookout and Jim Lesch," he says, naming the retired CEOs of Shell Oil and Hughes Tool, respectively, "than with Corson. I only went hunting with him once."
Once, however, was more than enough.
Four years ago, Lindsay took another risky gamble when he invested nearly $195,000 from his campaign account in son Steve's plans to operate an outmoded fishing boat as a scuba diving vessel operating out of Honduras. Lindsay has since admitted that he had already sunk some of his personal funds into the venture, making for a messy mix of private and political moneys. He failed to report the campaign expenditures as required on his state-mandated disclosure reports, an omission that resulted in two perjury indictments by a Harris County grand jury that are still pending. Texas appellate courts have issued conflicting rulings on the application of the state's ambiguous laws regulating the use of political funds by candidates and officeholders. In addition to Lindsay, District Attorney Johnny Holmes has secured perjury indictments against County Commissioner Jerry Eversole and District Judge Lupe Salinas for similar violations. All await a final judgment in appeals courts.
Lindsay continues to blame his problems on an alleged Democratic conspiracy headed by County Attorney Driscoll, but his most pressing concern at the moment is a brushfire emanating from the more conservative wing of his own party and fanned by Dumas, who says that Lindsay is neither morally nor ideologically fit to hold the office of state senator.
"Oftentimes there is an effort by Mr. Lindsay to make light of these allegations as brought about by political enemies of his," Dumas says with a touch of sarcasm. "Mr. John Holmes, a Republican district attorney, would indict his grandmother if he thought she did something wrong."
Nevertheless, Lindsay apparently still remains popular among west-side Republicans. Democratic consultant Dan McClung says that the most effective ad run by John Peavy, an African-American Democratic judge, in his City Council runoff with Republican Kathryn Tyra early last year was one that featured Lindsay's endorsement.
"I'm convinced that it influenced a lot of west-side votes in Peavy's favor," says McClung.
For once, the yowling screeches of the peacocks infesting the lakefront behind Vargo's restaurant were smothered by those from another sort of strutting bird, a flock of Republican candidates making their earnest campaign pitches to the Daughters of Liberty.
The Daughters of Liberty is one of the more recently formed local Republican women's clubs, and one of the most conservative. Before the speeches, one of the Daughters had offered the luncheon benediction, exhorting the Almighty to "protect us from the filth all around us."
Then it was time to hear from Jerry Dumas, a stolid 60-year-old business executive who recently moved into District 7 from the Rice University area. Dumas' spiel included a rather pointed call for amending the state bribery law to include a five-year, rather than three-year, statute of limitations. (District Attorney Holmes didn't pursue the bribery allegation against Lindsay because the statute of limitations had long expired when it was finally aired publicly.) Dumas then fielded a few friendly questions about his finances, which allowed him to answer an attack by Lindsay on Dumas' business foreclosures. A foreclosure is not the same as a bankruptcy, Dumas reminded the crowd, and in any case, he blamed his financial difficulties on a bout he had fought and won with cancer.
When it was Lindsay's turn, the former county judge delivered a short, almost perfunctory appeal for support. He then cautiously awaited questions. The first came from Ann Mather, the wife of former county Republican chairman Russ Mather. The Mathers are avid Dumas supporters, and Ann Mather also may have her own personal ax to grind with Lindsay, since he had appointed her to and then purged her from the county Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board in a general housecleaning of that agency back in the '80s. Nevertheless, she had a question that has occurred to more than one Republican since Lindsay launched his comeback bid.
"Jon, I'm real confused, and I'd like you to straighten this out," Mather said with a straight face. "You're running as a Republican, but the record shows that in the '90s you have given to almost every liberal Democrat statewide, and that's very confusing as to why you're running as a Republican E."
Lindsay attempted to justify the contributions to Democratic legislators, which he doled out from his own campaign fund, simply as a way to further Harris County's interests in Austin.
"The issues that come from county government are not partisan types of issues, by and large, and it gave me a step forward to work with those particular people," he said. "And it will in the future."
"Can we expect that again?" Mather fired back.
"It depends on the situation," replied Lindsay, with the condescension of a teacher addressing a rather slow pupil. "The county judge's money doesn't come from Republican contributors, as some of you people have declared. [It comes from] people that primarily E very candidly, did business with Harris County."
Some of the impeccably made-up faces in the crowd hardened as another questioner chimed in with, "You gave money to Jew Don Boney?"
You could almost hear the Daughters, whose ranks were devoid of black faces, suck in their collective breath at the thought of a Republican helping finance the campaign of Boney, the African-American city councilman who is anathema to west-side Republicans.
But Lindsay offhandedly explained the contribution as a favor to a good friend, Commissioner El Franco Lee, another liberal Democrat.
By then, some of the Daughters looked thoroughly baffled. You could almost read their faces: "He has a black liberal Democrat for a friend?"
The contributions also are viewed with disgust by another Lindsay critic and Dumas supporter, former GOP state chairman George Strake.
"That was money that was given by Republicans to elect Republicans, and it's found its way into the wrong political coffers, as far as I'm concerned," says Strake. "I'm a party builder, and I just don't think that's the way you do it."
Strake is also critical of Lindsay's transfer of several hundred thousand dollars from his campaign account into that of his wife, the state district judge. "I'm not saying this is illegal," says Strake. "I don't like it. It breaks the spirit of the law and the contributors' wishes."
One Daughter of Liberty, the wife of a major Harris County GOP contributor, suggests there is a hidden backlash vote lying in wait for Lindsay come primary day. Asking for anonymity, she opined that her friends were remaining publicly polite to Lindsay's face but planned to vote for Dumas.
"Republicans have got to put up people with a clean record," she whispered outside earshot of the gathering. "I'm not sure everybody even believes that what he was accused of was all valid, but they believe probably some of it was. We can't put up people who have a gray area."
If anybody comes in shades of gray, it's Jon Lindsay.
The Daughters' difficulties in accepting Lindsay's less-than-doctrinaire stance raises the question: have his worldly ways made him too liberal for his old stomping grounds in District 7? Asked later about the chilly reception at the Fondren restaurant, Lindsay says, "You're judging by a group of ladies that are probably, I wouldn't say all of them, but a percentage of those ladies you saw the other day would be more conservative or ideological than I am in some ways."
Which ways, for instance?
Well, Lindsay suggests, some folks might even consider him a liberal on "children and mental health-mental retardation and hospital" issues.
"You don't really find too many Republicans who really have an interest in those kinds of things," he avers.
If the crowd at Vargo's didn't constitute a Lindsay constituency, those who had gathered for a fundraiser the previous evening at the Piney Point home of C. Jim Stewart were much more to Lindsay's taste. Of course, Stewart, head of the massive manufacturing conglomerate Stewart and Stevenson, might have reason to sympathize with Lindsay's legal plight, since Stewart and Stevenson and four of its employees are under federal indictment for fraud, conspiracy and making false statements in connection with an Air Force subcontract to supply diesel generators to Saudi Arabia. The company was also temporarily banned from doing business with the federal government. In Lindsay's circles, that's akin to being chased out of Eden.
The event at Stewart's home had been organized by former Metro board member P.J. Lionetti, and the mayors of the upscale west-side villages had turned out to give Lindsay a mass endorsement and make it clear they considered all that negative stuff about the judge to be, well, just unproven allegations. Never mind that most of them had never even bothered to meet the current holder of the office, Don Henderson, and that no one could recall the mayors doing a joint endorsement in a political race before.
The milieu was pragmatic Republican, and the participants included the likes of Bob Lanier intimate and Metro trustee Holcombe Crosswell; County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a onetime Lindsay assistant who received large contributions from him in her own 1994 campaign; and State Representative Beverly Woolley, who, with Lindsay's support, narrowly survived a challenge from the far right two years ago. The candidate circulated easily, at home with people who measure accomplishments in terms of road funding and contracts for government work rather than moral stances against abortion, homosexuality and liberal Democrats.
Dumas, in fact, says the group that convened at the Stewart home is typical of Lindsay's base of support.
"There are those who will ignore [the ethical issues] simply because they have in the past profited from their association with my opponent," he says. "They'll vote for him to see that situation arise again, in some form or fashion."
Dumas should hardly be surprised by the coalition behind Lindsay. From the start of his professional life in Harris County back in the mid-'60s, Lindsay has pursued a career based on the confluence of interest between elected officials and the private companies they hire for public works. In doing so, he's amassed a sizable personal fortune, as well as the substantial campaign fund that he's put to all sorts of creative uses.
Denver-born Jon Lindsay grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the son of a nurse and a door-to-door salesman who never had much money, but did manage to purchase land that later escalated in value as the city became a playground for the arty and the rich. Lindsay earned an engineering degree through a work-study program at New Mexico State, where he met future wife Tonita Davis, a home economics major, in the school cafeteria. During summers he worked in the electronics shop and ran construction crews on the White Sands missile range, and later surveyed for the U.S. Forestry Service in Montana. After graduation, he took a commission in the Air Force as an engineer and eventually, through an odd coincidence, wound up in Houston. Lindsay had already perused an engineering magazine, found a hundred companies, and wrote them all. Ten job offers, including one from Brown & Root in Houston, came back.
During the closing stages of his Air Force hitch, Lindsay had worked with a Korean Air Force major assigned to his unit to learn American procedures. "He had a buddy on the Air Force base in San Antonio," recalls Lindsay. "They went to a San Antonio bar, were drinking, and met a contractor from Houston who was looking for a civil engineer. He called from that bar that night and he offered me the job." The pay was $600 a month, better than the salary offered by Brown & Root, so Lindsay packed up the family, which now included two young boys, and moved to Houston.
Lindsay's employer eventually went under, and he moved on to a job at Tellepsen, a large engineering firm, that ended with his being fired after just two weeks. The company's procedure for estimating job costs and Lindsay's didn't quite match up. "Howard Tellepsen [the Port Authority chairman at the time] and I laugh about that to this day," says Lindsay. "He hated [Democratic County Judge] Bill Elliott, and he was my biggest contributor when I ran against Bill Elliott. When I went to see him about a contribution in 1974, you'd think we were the best of buddies. Course, he didn't even know he had fired me."
Lindsay is somewhat hazy about his motivation for his initial run for office in 1972, which he made as a Democrat for a state representative seat against then 21-year-old Don Henderson. "In my construction work, I was doing a lot of county and city, school district work, so that kind of got me involved with the politicians," he remembers. "Because of the work I was doing, I would get acquainted with them. It just seemed like the thing to do."
Unfortunately for Lindsay, it was also the year of President Nixon's landslide re-election over George McGovern, and the neophyte pol had chosen to run in a freshly carved district in heavily Republican territory. "I didn't even know it was a Republican district," says Lindsay with a laugh. "I was real popular around here at the time. I was a member of everything -- president of the North Houston Association, the Rotary Club, had a lot of friends up in Tomball, where we went to church. I was very well known, much better known [than Henderson]."
Lindsay lost by just 111 votes, which encouraged him to switch parties and attempt a countywide challenge only two years later. Incumbent County Judge Elliott, dogged by corruption charges that included misappropriation of county materials, went down to defeat, and Lindsay had the office without serious challenge for the next two decades.
From the beginning of his tenure as county judge, Lindsay exploited the connection between government and public works projects. To hear him tell it, his main achievements as county judge were construction projects such as the Hardy Toll Road and the South Belt.
That has led more than one person to profess amazement that Lindsay can run for office on Republican rhetoric about limiting government.
"I don't really think he's capable of staying off the government tit," says former Post reporter Brewton. "It's interesting he considers himself to be sort of a conservative and anti-big government. He can't live without government funding. It's just ironic as hell."
During last spring's legislative session, Lindsay would occasionally be seen loitering in the second-floor hallway outside the chambers of the Texas House. That station is the traditional hangout for the gaggle of white males who wait to buttonhole lawmakers before they go out onto the House floor, where lobbyists are forbidden to venture. It's also a post from which lobbyists can send importuning notes to lawmakers via a guard at the door. It's not a place where Jon Lindsay seemed to be at home.
"He was out there standing by himself, and no one was talking to him," recounts one capital lobbyist. "He looked lost -- a fish out of water. When he saw me, he practically ran over to have someone to talk to."
Two years earlier, when he was county judge, Lindsay had made the Austin rounds triumphantly, escorted by assistant Don Lee. Rather than hanging out, he made "appearances" as a power player to whom others gravitated. "Before, Don did the legwork, and this time he was doing it," says the lobbyist of Lindsay's lobbying work. "You could tell he wasn't used to it."
Lindsay had only two clients the whole session, one a California telecommunications company interested in providing dial tones for apartment complexes, the other the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which late in the session tried to push through a bill to devote car rental fees to the fine arts -- with a provision allowing the revenue to also fund new sports stadiums. That provision contributed to the sinking of the legislation, according to one lobbyist, leaving some arts supporters bitter. Although convention bureau president Eddie Webster says the lobbying contract was with the Vinson & Elkins law firm, Lindsay was paid $10,000 directly from the bureau.
Lindsay agrees he did not enjoy the role of a capital lobbyist.
"Yeah, it's kinda hard work," he deadpans. "You're not really in the mainstream of what's going on up there as a lobbyist, unless you stay up there all the time. I just didn't want to stay up there all the time." Actually, he spent only two nights in Austin during the session, otherwise driving from Houston to the capital each morning and returning by car in late afternoon. That sort of schedule is not the most productive use of a lobbyists' time and energy.
Lobbying opportunities back in Houston, where Lindsay retained plenty of clout, proved more lucrative. During the past year, Lindsay says, he's lobbied the city on waste disposal issues for Browning-Ferris and on the privatization of wastewater treatment operations for PSG, a subsidiary of a giant French conglomerate. Although he made calls on behalf of downtown hotel bidder Wayne Duddlesten to freshman Councilmembers Orlando Sanchez and Robb Todd, Lindsay denies receiving any payment. "And you can see how successful I was," he adds. Todd and Sanchez, both conservative Republicans, eventually opposed both Duddlesten and his competitor.
Lindsay figures that he'll continue his lobbying in the city even if he wins the Senate seat. It's an activity from which some Harris County legislators have derived income in the past, even though the Legislature brokers a myriad of city and county issues. Lindsay says he sees no problem with such lobbying, as long as it would present no direct conflict with legislation he might be voting on.
The Port of Houston Authority, half of whose board he helped appoint while county judge, provided Lindsay's biggest local payday -- a $120,000 contract to consult with state officials and others on funding for additional rail links to the Barbers Cut Terminal. It was a job that some critics argued could have been performed by the Port Authority's staff. Among the itemized $5,000 monthly billings Lindsay submitted were ones for "touring the site and visiting with potential users and participants" and another for "continuing dialogue" with Southern Pacific Railroad and state transportation officials. The contacts in state government he made in developing the Hardy Toll Road, Lindsay says, made him the logical choice for the Port contract. He's notified the Port that he's wrapping up his work on the project next month, and will cap the deal after receiving $60,000.
Port Authority chairman Ned Holmes was also the chairman for Lindsay's last big fundraiser before he left office. That infusion of cash replenished Lindsay's campaign fund, which he then tapped to pay his legal bills, provide contributions to his wife's campaign fund and those of other political friends and, more recently, to fund his current political venture. While initially raising only $7,900 for his Senate bid, Lindsay is conducting a last-minute TV advertising blitz using some of the $300,000 he budgeted from the campaign account he amassed as county judge.
The table centerpieces for the Holmes-chaired fundraiser were toy trucks loaded with gravel, as succinct a summary of Lindsay's philosophy of mixing politics and public construction as one could ask.
"Yeah, I kept one," Lindsay says with a laugh. "When my grandson gets big enough, he'll start playing with it."
Along with the toy, the proud grandfather is also in a position to educate the boy on what to do should the district attorney come calling.
Perhaps the best untold story of Lindsay's legal troubles concerns a visit that Johnny Holmes made to the judge at his office in the county administration building in the summer of 1994, after the district attorney learned Lindsay had used campaign funds to buy and refurbish the boat for his son Steve.
Unknown to Lindsay, Holmes was wired for sound when he dropped by, and he proceeded to engage the judge in a candid conversation. Since the perjury indictments are under appeal and have never made it to trial, the contents of the Holmes' tape have never been revealed. Lindsay believes the tape exists, but refuses to discuss his chat with the D.A.
During a 1994 deposition for Driscoll's suit to remove him from office, though, Lindsay recalled being shocked by Holmes' visit.
"He told me I was under an investigation here, and it shook me up," Lindsay testified. "I don't remember what I said then."
A source at the district attorney's office offers this synopsis of Lindsay's version of the boat deal, as told to Holmes: "He had a son he loved very much, an engineer who hated engineering, who was depressed and distraught, who loved scuba diving." Lindsay saw the boat as an opportunity to get his son out of the house and off in some other direction. "Most of us don't have a hundred-and-fifty grand lying around to go buy a boat with. I suspect he didn't [care] where it came from, and did not for a moment think it was something he shouldn't be doing, until after the fact."
Lindsay displays no rancor toward Holmes for the taping. "Well, I think Johnny's got his ways of doing things," he says. "I imagine I'm not the first one he's taped, if indeed he did."
If Lindsay did tell Holmes he bought the boat to give his son something to do, he's since changed the story. Now, Lindsay insists he fully expected to "quadruple my campaign account" with profits from the boat's operation. But he concedes that allowing politicians to ladle out campaign funds to family members probably isn't a good idea. "I thought it was going to be a big moneymaker," he says. "I was obviously wrong."
Somehow, you get the impression he's more chagrined by not making the money than crossing any ethical boundaries.
Lindsay attorney David Berg confirms that the taping occurred. He declines to say whether it was unethical, but allows, "I don't think Johnny's proud of what he did." The lawyer believes the tape will be suppressed if the charges against Lindsay ever make it to trial.
As for the fishing boat, Berg adds dryly, "Nobody's saying that was a smart investment."
It must not have been. Steve Lindsay is back living with his parents in the house off Kuykendahl. These days, he's building a wooden rowboat in a workshop behind the house. Presumably, its construction is not being subsidized by his father's campaign fund.
The most damaging testimonial against Lindsay's penchant for truthfulness are his own words, uttered during the two videotaped depositions conducted for Driscoll by assistant county attorney Mike Fleming in 1994.
During one of the depositions, Lindsay denied the allegations of bribery by Corson sidekick Billy Wayne Chester, but under Fleming's aggressive questioning admitted to telling several lies. Those included making false statements in a letter of recommendation to federal regulators on behalf of Corson, who was angling to purchase a Kingsville savings and loan. One of the falsehoods to which Lindsay attested to in the letter was that he had been personally acquainted with Corson for many years. When Lindsay acknowledged to Fleming that the statement was false, the assistant county attorney sought to put a finer point on the admission.
"Well, we can call that a lie, that's what it is," Fleming said.
"Okay, call it a lie," Lindsay replied.
"Okay, well, you call it a lie, don't you?" Fleming riposted.
Concluded the judge, with his usual laid-back lack of emotion, "I'd call it a lie."
Then there was a $6,000 armoire that Corson gave Lindsay. After Chester's allegations became public, Lindsay took out full-page ads in the Chronicle and Post to defend himself, declaring, "In fact, I refused to accept the only thing Chester and his partner tried to give me, an armoire they had delivered to my office while I was out. I sent it back the moment I saw it."
"That's not true," Fleming said during the deposition, more than a year after Lindsay ran his ads. "It went to your apartment and your house."
"You're right," answered Lindsay. "You're exactly right, that's not exactly true!"
The same advertisement bore another significant discrepancy. Lindsay claimed he had entered into a limited partnership with Corson fully intending to "make 5 percent of the payments on future debts." But when he sat for the deposition, Lindsay claimed he had only promised "sweat equity" to Corson, once he had left office, and never intended to put up cash.
In another line of questioning, Fleming probed Lindsay's statements to then-Post reporter Pete Brewton, to whom Lindsay had denied knowing Robert Corson very well or having done business with him.
"Did you ever lie to Brewton regarding your relationship with Mr. Corson?" asked Fleming.
"Yeah, probably did," said Lindsay. He went on to explain that he didn't feel obligated to be candid with Brewton because he did not consider the reporter to be an honorable person, even though Lindsay knew his statements would be relayed to the public via Brewton's story.
Pressed recently on whether he felt an obligation as a public official to tell the media the truth, Lindsay again was nonchalant.
"In the future, if I have a reporter I don't trust, I probably won't even talk to them anymore. I'd just say, 'Go find somebody else to talk to,' " he shrugs.
Lindsay is stretched out in an easy chair at his townhouse behind St. Thomas High School off Memorial, an unprepossessing bit of urban turf he says he purchased with the investment money he didn't have to put up for that limited partnership with Robert Corson.
This is what Lindsay describes as the "hotel room," where he and his wife spend most of their non-working weekday evenings. The ambiance at the Snover Street townhouse is similar to that at the Lindsay home off Kuykendahl -- sort of an urban hunting lodge, heavy on the wildlife prints. The head of a large buck looms over the living room mantle, with strings from a window blind knotted on the horns.
According to Lindsay, everything he owns is paid for, with the exception of a bay house near Freeport, and he doesn't buy on credit. Wherever Lindsay has put his money, it's not on display in his homes. In fact, the lack of evidence in Lindsay's checking account for such routine expenses as groceries convinced the county attorney's office that he must have secret accounts in offshore banks from which he draws cash. The suggestion solicits Lindsay's vintage half-smile and one word: "Absurd."
Once again, the judge is engaged in one of his least favorite activities, fielding questions from a reporter. Given the previous experiences of some of the city's best investigative journalists, one wonders whether anything said here might not also be disavowed in the future based on the questioner's dishonorable nature.
"If my name never made it in the newspaper, I'd be happy," says Lindsay, "[but] it may be hard to get elected to something. Because of that, I reckon I've got to talk to you guys. I may not want to, but I got to." And on this afternoon, Lindsay is looking so relaxed and confident it seems he might never feel the need to tell a lie again.
"Having plowed through it all, yeah, I don't think anything could bother me as far as making me lose any sleep anymore on those ridiculous accusations that come up," he explains.
Then Lindsay pauses to ponder his good fortune.
"I've got a healthy retirement from the county. So if I don't make any outside money, I'm not losing anything. And, of course, you know what my wife does."
With Tony Lindsay off in the professional world, you get the sense her husband feels just a little left behind.
"That's another reason for running," he acknowledges. "She doesn't come home till 6:30, 7:30 most of the time, because of where she is and what she's doing. I need to be doing something on my own." Naturally, after 20 years in office, the something that feels most natural is an elective position, the past be damned.
"I've taken everything they could throw at me," says Lindsay quietly. "And I recognize that some people are going to believe that crap. But there's nothing I can do about it. There's always gullible people out there."
That's a sentiment with which Lindsay nemesis Pete Brewton agrees, but he believes that it's the gullibility of voters Lindsay is banking on for yet another lease on political life.
"If those people in northwest Harris County want him, they'll get him," says Brewton with a sad laugh. "The thing is that they'll inflict him again on all the rest of us, too.